Field of Science

Polishing my SciFoo talk - last slide

My 5-minute 'Ignite' talk at SciFoo is tonight, and I still need to work out the point I'll make with my last slide.  (It's too late change the slide - our Powerpoint files had to be submitted two days ago.)

I'll have just said that big mistakes were made by everyone involved (authors, reviewers, editors, publicists, journalists).  Then I want to say something about how scientists in particular need to be able to admit their errors - we're working not only at the frontiers of knowledge but at the frontiers of our abilities.  Failure to admit we've been wrong is a betrayal of the scientific process.

Can I say that in 15 seconds, without rushing my words?  Maybe, but it would be better to cut a few words, or at least a few syllables.

How about this?

Previous slide:  Everyone involved made big mistakes (authors, reviewers, editors, publicists, journalists).  But the big betrayal wasn't the errors but the failure to admit them.

Last slide:  Scientists work not only at the frontiers of knowledge but at the frontiers of our abilities, and learning to be wrong should be part of our training.


  1. How about something like:

    In a sense, science IS the search for where you went wrong. If you can't admit your mistakes, you can't do science.

  2. I'd substitute "learning to admit our mistakes" rather than "learning to be wrong".

    Otherwise, I think this is great and an important thing to say.

  3. I always remember Heisenberg's definition of an expert: "An expert is someone who knows all the mistakes that can be made in his or her field".

  4. I read a quote somewhere a few years ago along the lines of "In the mind of an amateur, the possibilities seem endless. In the mind of an expert, they seem few. Always try to think like an amateur". Might've been someone from Texas A&M but can't remember who it was.


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